Christmas Cookies on the Plum Creek

On the Banks of Plum Creek

Chapter 31

 

Christmas came to Walnut Grove and Laura is surprised it’s Christmas because there’s no snow. I was surprised she didn’t know because in my house the kids ALWAYS know when it’s Christmas, with or without snow.  They count down the days and drive me crazy asking “how many more sleeps until Christmas?”

 

Ma and Pa don’t tell the kids, but they know there’s something going on because they have to take a bath in the middle. of. the. week.  Back then, it was a clear signal that something was up.  Actually, in 1874, Christmas was on a Friday, but Laura didn’t have the Internet back then to verify the details, and she probably didn’t keep every calendar from the previous 50 years.  But, she knew it was NOT bath night. 

 

Laura sees her first Christmas tree in the church and gets a fur cape and muff that is BETTER than Nellie Oleson’s.  Ooh, Laura is so honest about her little mean heart,  isn’t she? I love her for this, and I think that’s why we were drawn to her books as children.  She was naughty just like us! 

 

We wanted Christmas to come to our Little House dollhouse, so we started with Christmas cookies.

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Ma Ingalls had a Norwegian neighbor over and they rolled out little snowmen cookies together over cups of hot coffee.  They talked about storms, grasshoppers, the wheat harvest and naughty children almost drowning in the Plum Creek.  Baby Carrie slept peacefully in the homemade cradle right next to the fireplace.

The white apron on the left was sewn by my mommy years and years ago.  I still love playing with it! I remembering snuggling in bed late at night, listening to the whirr of her Necchi sewing machine, knowing she was stitching together amazing gifts for Christmas.

 

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Beka and I used Sculpey clay and little cookie cutters and punches. This is the same red cutting board we used when drilling and cutting a shelf for the General Store, so it’s getting pretty beat up this year in school. We painted two little wood mugs gray to look like the tin mugs Laura and Mary got for Christmas in Kansas.  We also made them candy canes and the little heart cakes they received in their stockings.   We’re trying to replicate their Christmas celebrations, of course, with some creative embellishment.

 

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We baked our creations in the toaster oven.  We learned the hard way if you overcook them, they turn dark.  OOPS! (see finished  below)

 

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The little cookie cutters from Michaels.

 

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These little punches from the Dollhouse Cottage work great and are very inexpensive.  We discovered it works better to NOT use the plunger.  See the little circles in the middle of our stars? That’s from the plunger. Just roll out the dough, put it on the cookie sheet that is going in the oven,  use the punch to form all the shapes you want, making sure you push all the way through the clay.  You separate the cookies AFTER they’re baked.  The stars were over baked, but supposed to be white. We’re pretending they’re gingerbread.  The cookies on the right were from a tan clay with little red clay circles and cooked to perfection. You can tell I didn’t push the cutter all the way down, there’s still little ridges around my cookies.  But, we’re not perfectionists around here, we’re just happy to get stuff done.

 

After all, Christmas is around the corner and we have so much to do to get ready!

 

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Practice makes perfect.  So does a miniature class at the Dollhouse Cottage. While Beka and I pulled out the first burned batch, we remembered the dollhouse store has $10 miniature workshops the first Saturday of each month and they LOVE having children. As you can see from above, our creations got a little better after spending a few hours crafting with Sandi, the owner.

 

I was so surprised to find the little jars with corks in the jewelry-making department at JoAnn’s. They were two in a package for $1, but came with a little eye screw so you could fill the jars and wear them on a necklace.  We needed candy in our store for the little children.

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And since you might want to really make cookies this year, I will pass on the famous rolled out sugar cookie recipe from my 100% Norwegian Gramma Geneva.

One year the kids and I went over to another family’s house to make rolled out sugar cookies.  She made the dough ahead of time from her family’s recipe.  They were delicious, but there was no nutmeg. What surprised me even more, was how thick she rolled out the sugar cookies.  I was thinking to myself “She’s only going to get about two dozen cookies out of a batch of dough.”

I thought about “the waste” until I almost laughed out loud.  She grew up in a very wealthy family on the East coast,  with  European money gained during WWII.  I grew up in a middle class family, from very poor grandparents, who struggled to stay warm and full during WWII. My relatives rolled sugar cookies almost as thin as paper, trying to get as many cookies from a batch as possible.  My friend’s family grew up with plenty of money, and there was always more flour,sugar and butter in the pantry so they could roll out their cookies as thick as they wanted.

 

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Gramma never frosted her cookies, because they were for dunking in the coffee, but her cookie jar was always full when we came to visit. Her cookie jar has been sitting on my counter for about 15 years, and it’s rarely full.  Sometimes I put in store-bought treats,  but they always taste like guilt.  There’s no better feeling than to fill Gramma’s cookie jar with homemade cookies.

 

When I married in 1986, this recipe became a part of every holiday celebration.  I made hearts for Valentine’s day.  I made trees and stars for Christmas.  When I couldn’t find a football cookie cutter, I smooshed a circle one into the right shape to celebrate the Super Bowl with cookies.   I always frosted and decorated my cookies.

 

Geneva's Sugar Cookies back

This is what I wrote on the back of my recipe card. I’ve made them only a few times since 2005.

Again this year, I’m telling myself, “Maybe this year.”

Maybe this year, they’ll be Gramma’s sugar cookies in the house, not just in the dollhouse.

 

 

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If you still can’t get enough of Laura, here’s a wonderful blog post Christmastime When Laura was Sixteen,  from the blog All Things Laura Ingalls Wilder.

 

The blog,  Laura’s Sweet Memories, provided a recipe for Farmer Boy Carrot Cookies.  Last year, they blogged Laura’s Gingerbread recipe, saying if she hadn’t become famous for her writing, she certainly would have become famous for her gingerbread.

 

If you’re looking for a quick simple recipe, try Laura’s Saucepan Coco Brownies from The Cottonwood Tree, another blogger dedicated to Laura.

 

And if you have time to watch a video, listen to Laura tell her own Christmas stories.

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Living Under the Bank on Plum Creek

On the Banks of Plum Creek

 

We started On the Banks of Plum Creek a few weeks ago, and I still haven’t gotten over the move.

At the end of Little House on the Prairie, Pa had to leave Indian country. He moved his family back to Pepin, WI for two years before taking that covered wagon west to Walnut Grove, Minnesota. So, Ma had another tearful goodbye with her family.

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It was a long drive for the Ingalls family. Of course, we have GPS, Mapquest and even old fashioned printed maps, but from what I’ve read, there were only rugged trails.  The Ingalls family traveled 196 miles in a bouncy wagon on a journey that offered no amenities, no fast-food restaurants and no rest areas.  Certainly no free coffee or vending machines at those wayside stops for the weary.  If they had good travel days and were able to travel 10-15 miles per day, the journey would have taken  13-20days. If they traveled 5 miles a day, the journey would take 39 days.  Can you imagine eating on the road that long without McDonalds?

After traveling the dusty trail,  they get to live in a dirt house.  Not even a sod house, a house made with bricks of sod.  It was a dugout. The Norwegian, Mr. Hanson, dug out under a grassy creek bank like a bear’s cave, then made the front wall out of sod.  He’d even made a real door and a greased-paper window. I loved how Laura described the usefulness of the window, p. 11.  “But the wall was so thick that the light from the window stayed near the window.” The interior walls were white-washed, which I find amazing. How do you paint dirt?  I can believe a Norwegian would paint dirt, I come from a long line of strong, Norwegian women who waged a lifelong war against dirt and disorder.

I didn’t really enjoy the way Laura described Mr. Hanson on p. 2. Norwegians are very handsome people. “His hair was pale yellow, his round face was as red as an Indian’s, and his eyes were so pale that they looked like a mistake.”

But, Pa stereotyped my people correctly when he was describing the dugout to Ma on page 6. “I think you’ll find it very clean,” Pa told her. “Norwegians are clean people. It will be snug for winter, and that’s not far away.”

Ya’ got that right, Pa, Norwegians are very clean people.  My Grandpa Arne came from Norway as a young man, lying about his age to come to America sooner.  He ended up in Kindred, ND and married Geneva, the daughter of Norwegian immigrants, then lived  next door to his in-laws the rest of his life. I always admired him for that.

My grandparents lived in a tiny house, less than 400 square feet, with only a tiny bedroom, a tiny kitchen and a tiny living room for years.  Running water and electricity were added sometime when Mom was in junior high. Yes, that means they had an outhouse, and as a child we used it. The house was tiny, sparsely furnished, but always clean. The best part?  My grandparents never, ever, ever  moved.  My Gramma was as content to stay in her little tiny home as Ma Ingalls was to move from state to state with her husband.

Grandpa Arne died when I was a senior in high school, and Gramma lived alone for about 12  years before moving into a nursing home.  When did we know it was time?  When she could no longer keep her house clean.  I remember my own Mom being so distressed to notice Gramma’s decline, noticing  “Last time I went to visit her, there were drips down her walls.”  A sure sign of decline for Norvegians, fur shur. (There were other signs, too, please don’t think we were a bit over-anxious clean freaks.  My dear Gramma suffered from Alzheimer’s.)

My mom is equally a great housekeeper, even while raising six kids.  We were all taught to cook, clean and garden.  Our clothes weren’t always new, but they were always clean, mended and pressed.  We were even taught how to iron creases into our jeans.  Mom always taught us, “Soap and water are practically free.”  In other words, the condition of your pocketbook didn’t need to reflect the condition of your home.  We were taught to take care of what we had.

The bead situation with Ma frustrated me slightly, but with this move, my admiration for Ma increased greatly.  She moved into a dirt home, because that was the home her husband found for the family.   

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Of course, Laura the Adventurer, is the first one in the door of the dugout. See the original site here. She’s enthralled by the morning glories growing around the home.

 Laura recalls her mom saying, “It’s small, but it’s clean and pleasant.” (p. 11)  Ma doesn’t complain, she looks for things to admire.  Anybody else feeling that the lessons in the Little House books aren’t only for the kids?  I marvel at Ma for following Pa from state to state without complaining.  Of course, we don’t know about the whispered conversations after the kids were in bed, but Laura portrays their life as all bliss and contentment, so we won’t look for dirt, since Ma is living in it. 

On p.17 we hear a little more about the root of her contentment.  “It is all so tame and peaceful,” she said.  “There will be no wolves or Indians howling tonight.  I haven’t felt so safe and at rest since I don’t know when.”

Ma is thankful for the peace and safety, but Pa is excited the town of Walnut Grove is ONLY three miles away. I don’t wanna’ walk across the street to the mailbox, let alone three miles to the nearest town. I Mapquested the Target and discovered it’s 4.28 miles away. I definitely would have to have a LONG list before I wanted to walk there.

As she is putting the girls to bed for the first time she says, “It’s bedtime.  And here is something new, anyway.  We’ve never slept in a dugout before.”  She was able to laugh even though she was living in a dirt cave.

 Oh fur shur, you betcha, it probably was a gut move for dem, ya know. In case ya’ wanna’ know how tu speak MinnusOtan, I rote about dat once, ya’ know. Pa vas lucky enuff to lif around Norvegians, they’s gut people, ya’ know, fur shur.  I tink I’m gunna’ like dis book, On the Banks of Plum Creek.